Aviation Traders Limited (ATL) was a war-surplus aircraft and spares trader formed in 1947. In 1949, it began maintaining aircraft used by some of Britain's contemporary independent airlines on the Berlin Airlift. In the early 1950s, it branched out into aircraft conversions and manufacturing. During that period it also became a subcontractor for other aircraft manufacturers. By the end of the decade, it was taken over by the Airwork group.
Aviation Traders Ltd. (ATL) was established by Freddie Laker at Bovingdon in Hertfordshire, England, in 1947 to trade in war-surplus aircraft and spares. Two years later, Laker shifted his fledgling business to new premises at Rochford aerodrome (later Southend Municipal Airport) near Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England.
ATL initially specialised in converting numerous war-surplus bombers and transporters into freighters. This included the conversion of Handley Page Halifax bombers into freighters, six of which were sold to Bond Air Services, an early post-war independent British airline. Bond Air Services based these planes at Wunstorf aerodrome in West Germany to carry essential supplies into West Berlin during the Berlin Blockade of 1948–49. Bond Air Services furthermore contracted Aviation Traders to service these planes. In return, Aviation Traders got half of Bond Air Services' freight charges. Following the end of the Berlin Airlift in 1949, Laker had most of the Halifaxes he had supplied to various independent airlines during the Airlift scrapped at its Southend facilities.
Aviation Traders (Engineering) Ltd – (ATEL), ATL's engineering division, was formally established in 1949. Laker put Jack Wiseman, a fully qualified aircraft maintenance engineer with whom he had worked for a brief period at London Aero Motor Services (LASM), in charge of his new engineering business.
Three former British European Airways (BEA) Vickers Vikings, which Laker had acquired in 1949 as well, were overhauled at ATL's Southend maintenance base and sold on to British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) at a profit.
ATL also became one of many post-war aircraft manufacturers seeking to develop a successor to the then ubiquitous Douglas DC-3 piston airliner that continued playing a prominent role in the fleets of many of the world's airlines well into the 1950s. ATL's answer was the ATL-90 Accountant, which first flew on 9 July 1957. The Accountant was designed for 28 passengers and, like the more successful Avro 748, Handley Page Dart Herald, Fokker Friendship and YS-11, was powered by two Rolls-Royce Dart turboprop engines. At the time, ATL was competing in the DC-3 replacement market with Avro, Handley Page, Fokker and Nihon Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation (NAMC). These were well-established aircraft manufacturers with much deeper pockets. ATL could not match the scale of its competitors' investments, both in the design and development of the aircraft itself as well as in marketing the aircraft to potential customers. In addition, the simultaneous development of five competing designs – the ATL-90 Accountant, the Avro 748, the Handley Page HPR 7 Dart Herald, the Fokker F-27 Friendship and the NAMC YS-11 saturated the market. As a consequence, the Accountant failed to attract orders. This led to the programme's termination. It also resulted in the prototype's destruction.
Subsequent conversion work proved more successful. Some Avro Tudor airliners were fitted with large freight doors to carry cargo for Air Charter Ltd (one of ATL's sister companies) as Supertraders. Twenty-one Douglas DC-4 airliners were converted into car ferries as the ATL-98 Carvair, a major task that included replacing the aircraft's original forward fuselage with an extended version incorporating the flight-deck above the cargo hold and a side-hinged nose door through which five cars could be loaded, one at a time, by means of a mobile, ground-based "scissor" lift. Twenty-five passengers could be accommodated in the remaining rear fuselage whose cross-section remained unaltered. The fin was enlarged to offset the destabilising effect of the enlarged forward fuselage. Many of these piston-engined Carvair aircraft were operated from Southend Airport on short air ferry routes across the English Channel or North Sea. The eventual provision of competing fast ferry services by large hovercraft (the SR.N4) meant that the age of the car-carrying airliner that commenced with the Bristol Freighter concluded with the Carvair.
ATL furthermore re-engined Argonauts, BOAC's Canadian-built Douglas DC-4s, with unused Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engines, which it sourced from the 88 spare Merlins Laker had acquired earlier along with BOAC's Halifaxes and several Avro Tudors purchased from the Government.
In 1951, ATL won a contract from Bristol Aircraft to manufacture wing centre sections for Bristol Freighters. Between the beginning of 1952 and the end of 1955, ATL built 50 wing sections for Bristol Aircraft. During that period ATL had grown into a large engineering and manufacturing organisation.
In 1958, Laker announced his decision to sell both ATL and Air Charter to Airwork for £600,000 cash plus a further £200,000, subject to the valuation of stock. The deal became effective in January 1959, when both companies joined the Airwork group.
In 1996, Britavia which was part of Airwork and the design arm of Shorts Support Services ceased trading as Britavia and was subject to a Management Buy-Out and started trading again as Aviation Traders Limited (ATL) which was based at Bournemouth Airport, UK until 2016. In 2016 ATL Moved to their current offices in Wimborne. ATL provided approved design services under the CAA reference of DAI/9525/96. With the introduction of EASA, ATL moved under the control of EASA and transferred to a Design Organisation Approval (DOA) under Part 21J and now Certifies and Designs fixed and rotary wing modifications under approval reference EASA.21J.016. ATL are currently opening a European company and office to continue after BREXIT.